Monday 23 June 2014

Back from D*****e

This year's stay in Dieppe was even more leisurely than usual, thanks to the antics of Mrs N's sciatic nerve - but we did get out to the Bois des Moutiers, a few miles away at Varengeville-sur-Mer (where Braque is buried). This (and I'm surprised I haven't written about it before) is a glorious combination of a fine early Lutyens house, an equally fine Gertrude Jekyll garden, and acres of carefully planted, richly rewarding woodland. The house itself is not open to the public (though, some years ago when the family were keen to get the place noticed, we were once shown round by the very friendly and impeccably Anglophone chatelaine), but the exterior alone is remarkable enough, at once plain and grand, an English Arts and Crafts house with a distinctively Norman flavour and plenty of Lutyens' originality and sheer dash. He was only 28 when he came up with the design, for the Anglophile artistic banker (and Theosophist) Guillaume Mallet - but Lutyens tackled the commission with the gusto and self-confidence of a much more experienced architect, and the result is a joy to see, especially as it emerges from and blends with the suite of garden 'rooms' that re-create the house's bold interiors. Lutyens designed these himself, while Gertrude Jekyll took care of the planting, which is classic Jekyll and feels thoroughly English. However, the distinctive qualities of the house prevent the whole ensemble from feeling like a pastiche, a bit of England transplanted to alien Norman soil; it works brilliantly as it is and where it is. Even though the house is closed to visitors, this is surely the grandest experience of the Lutyens-Jekyll magic to be had anywhere - and it's on the other side of the Channel!

It was in the gardens of the Bois des Moutiers that I saw my first (and most definitely not my last) Meadow Brown of this year. There were big, bright Red Admirals flying in abundance, as there were in Dieppe, where I also saw, up by the castle, my first (again not last) Large Skippers, and, on the Mini Golf course - which now has a flourishing flower garden a l'Anglais - a single Clouded Yellow. The best of it, though, was my return visit to the colony of Small Blues I discovered last year. I was fearful that the roadside site, under the cliffs hard by the ferry port, might have been lost to the municipal mower. But no, it was still there and flourishing, richly flowered with Knapweed, Bird's Foot Trefoil, Clover, Kidney Vetch, Black Medic, Scarlet Pimpernel, Hawkweed, Stonecrop and more. Summer mowing had been restricted to a swathe that curved round to offer a little promenade through the flowers - and the butterflies. And there they were! Small Blue galore, dancing from flower to flower, with Meadow Browns flapping lazily around, Large Skippers darting about, Red Admirals and Tortoiseshells gliding by, a couple of busy Hummingbird Hawk Moths, and what I'm pretty sure was my first Gatekeeper of the year. That too won't be my last - and nor will this, I fancy, be my last trip to dear old Dieppe.


  1. Lovely Nige. Good to have you back. I can imagine you there tripping delightedly along the roadside like Fotherington-Thomas thorough the flowers and the lepidoptera. What rapture!

  2. Ho ho, yes - 'Bonjour nuages, bonjour ciel!'